BY TIM PENNINGTON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF (FinishingAndCoating.com)
Lonnie Harder doesn’t talk in grandiose terms about all that he wants to add or change about his Florida metal finishing company, ElectroLab II.
The Nadcap-certified operation is in its second generation in Oldsmar, just north of Tampa, and Harder makes no qualms about getting bigger or expanding operations. The vice-president of the company’s main concern is doing right by his customers.
“Our shop is what it is,” Harder says. “It’s not getting bigger, and I’m not building another company out next door to it. But we are definitely a dependable shop.”
Making Customer Service Key
That devotion to customer service has been ElectroLab II’s calling card for several decades, ever since Lonnie’s late father, Grady Harder, started the company in 1977 when he moved his family from Texas and the machine shop company they owned to the Florida area to invest in ElectroLab.
Grady passed away at 82 in 2020, and the reins were taken over by his wife, Anne. Now their two sons — Lonnie and Buddy — run the company that employs about 50 and runs two shifts to service the commercial, military and defense, aerospace, medical, and automotive industries.
Lonnie has continued that tradition of servicing the customer in many ways, including running two trucks throughout the Tampa/St. Petersburg area and over to Central Florida to pick up and deliver parts at no additional fee.
Coupled with an extensive quality department that tests and validates specifications on parts for some very particular customers, ElectroLab II’s business and been steady and slightly growing over the last decade.
“I’ve never really advertised,” Harder says. “All my business has pretty much been done by word-of-mouth. I’ve never had to go out and try to sell myself. All my business has been from other customers, and pretty much all we’ve ever done is grow.”
Offering a Variety of Specialized Finishes
ElectroLab II offers a variety of custom finishes, including anodizing, black oxide, zinc plating, electroless nickel, cadmium plating, aluminum conversion coatings, electropolishing, passivation, and zinc phosphate, among others.
The shop added the Nadcap certification about 12 years ago, a move that Harder says “was the best thing for us.” He hired a consultant to help them through the process but also brought on Michael Flanigan as Quality Assurance Manager right after that to help keep the certification and quality processes in step. John Macy was promoted to Plant Manager at about this same time and has been instrumental in keeping customers satisfied, and Shawn Pradaxay is Electrolab’s lead chemist at the facility.
“Nadcap really put us in another direction,” Harder says. “I think we were a mom-and-pop shop before. And Mike came in, and we grew tremendously. It really was an economic driver. In 2008 the commercial side of the business really went away, but there was still a lot more military work that we could do.”
Before Nadcap, Harder says he was turning away a lot of work because they did not have the proper certifications. That’s when he knew he needed to take the company to the next level.
“My customers were giving me the jobs I could do for them,” he says. “But they were also like, ‘You put Nadcap in, and we can give me more work.’ So I started looking for what I needed.”
Two Years to Implement Nadcap
The Nadcap process took them about two years to complete, which was also the same time the U.S. economy was coming out of the 2008 recession. Most manufacturing industries were struggling, as were the finishing operations that serviced them.
“We were hurting and trying to climb our way out of it,” Harder says. “We had been running two shifts five days a week, but I had to let a few people go. I went down to one shift and was running four days a week, 10-hour days.”
With a thriving economy and Nadcap, ElectroLab II came out stronger after the recession. Anodizing accounts for about 35% of their business now, with zinc plating next in line as the shop performs a lot of coatings for the hydraulic fittings industry.
Harder credits a lot of the company’s success to his employees, many of whom have been around for several years. He says he makes a strong effort to pay his workers above what they could make at other manufacturing processes, and he realizes their importance to the company.
“I’d rather them make more because I know they work hard for me,” he says. “They are more appreciative, and I try to do everything I possibly can for them.”
Possibly Adding Paint, Hard Coat
While Harder isn’t looking at expanding his facility, he would like to possibly add painting capabilities in the shop to better serve current customers. He is wavering on adding a hard coat anodizing line but says it’s “not growing much more than I am right now.”
The “growth plan” is to maintain ElectroLab II’s reputation in the area as “one of the better anodizers,” he says, adding that the last four or five years have been good for them, and he sees some really good years ahead.
“We have a chemist, we’re on top of things, and I just want our customers to get good parts back,” Harder says. “With my bigger customers, I am very good friends with, and I think it is all about the relationships. They call me after work, call me on the way home, and ask me about fishing and other things. It’s that relationship that is key.
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